• select language
  • Billroth’s anti-Semitism
    zoom in zoom out
    back

    Billroth monument

    share
    share
    font + font -

    Billroth’s anti-Semitism

    Billroth was brought to Vienna on a lucrative salary in 1867, a year after the Habsburgs were defeated at Königgrätz. He considered himself to be a representative of a German minority and, in 1871, complained: “We Germans are just tolerated here, the State is becoming ever more Slavic and Hungarian.” (Billroth quoted by Werner Michler, 1999, 62). In 1875 he published a book titled “Über das Lehren und Lernen der medicinischen Wissenschaften an den Universitäten der Deutschen Nation”  (“On the teaching and learning of medical sciences at the German universities”) - an early cultural-historical study with pages of anti-Semitic polemic against Jewish students from Galicia and Hungary - and became an apologist for the new, racial anti-Semitism.

    “It is clear that important people from all times and nations will always be sympathetic to the great, general, human questions, but it is also clear to me that despite all reflection and individual sympathy, I still feel the gulf between pure German and pure Jewish blood as greatly as ever, as the gulf a Teuton must feel between himself and a Phoenician.” (“On the teaching and learning of medical sciences at the German universities”, 154.)

    He had already contested whether a Jew could even become a German national as he lacks “German sensibilities and the specific relationship to medieval Romance and antiquity”. (“On the teaching and learning of medical sciences at the German universities”, 154.)

    The anti-Semitic remarks, celebrated by German nationals and cause for public debate, led to the first violent anti-Semitic riots at Vienna University in 1875. Billroth was very surprised and tried to take back some of his remarks. Even within the anti-liberal German-national Reading Society which Billroth initially defended, Victor Adler (1852-1918) argued against Billroth’s anti-Semitic polemic and stressed the assimilation theory and importance of the Jews for building the German nation.

    In this context, Billroth was honoured by Austro-fascism and National Socialism.